Emergency communications

Submitted: Thursday, Jan 31, 2008 at 23:17
ThreadID: 124386 Views:3793 Replies:2 FollowUps:1
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I hope that our members will find the information below useful.


There are now many methods of emergency communications for caravaners, yachtsmen, aviators, bushwalkers etc. It is one of the most important considerations for people when getting of the beaten track. It is especially important for Bushtracker owners as “going bush” is our lifestyle. I thought I would try to summarise the current state of play.

There are probably 4 methods of emergency communication available.

UHF radio:
This is the common communication radio that most people have in 4WD’s.
• Cheap to fit
• No cost to calls
• Can be used for vehicle to vehicle chat and information gathering
• Short range, UHF radio waves travel in straight lines and hence are limited to line of sight, maybe 15 Km. They are also very restricted in high country with valleys etc. There are repeater facilities available on certain frequencies ie: channel 5 which is the emergency frequency and this method can travel a much longer distance.
• Not portable – stays with the tow vehicle
• May be damaged if the vehicle is in a crash

HF radio:
This is a much longer distance radio and has been the stalwart of outback communication for many years being used by many including RFDS, school of the air etc. The radio waves are a much lower frequency and bounce back off the upper layers of the atmosphere, sometimes several times (called skipping).
Long distance communication
No cost to calls
Can be used for chat, information gathering etc.
Expensive initial purchase and installation
Requires a long antenna
Not portable
May be damaged if the vehicle crashes
Can be unreliable and unclear if atmospheric conditions are not favourable.

These are now more readily available and have come down in price. At this stage the Federal Government will still subsidise a purchase to the tune of about $900 if you can show that you will be away from a serviceable landline or outside the footprint of Next G mobile coverage for more than 4 months per year for 2 years.
• Very portable
• Can be used anywhere in the world (as long as you have an Iridium phone, don’t go Globalstar)
• Not reliant on a vehicle in any way
• Clear communication
• Initial purchase cost (not much really)
• Calls can be expensive, so it is only used for emergency or important communications. Not good for chatting to other people.

EPIRB’s or ELB’s or PLB’s:
These are small portable devices that go by several acronyms. The latest seems to be PLB (personal locator beacon). There are 2 types, the old type worked on 2 frequencies 121 MHz (civil) and 243 MHz (military). They emit a signal which is picked up by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite systems (joint American and Russian) and these frequencies are also monitored by aircraft. After February 2009 the above satellite system will no longer monitor these devices so they are effectively useless.
Their main problem was that the signal was anonymous and there was no way of registering the device to an individual. This resulted in a very high rate of false alarm calls which could not be traced down easily.

The new system is a 406 MHz beacon and these will also be picked up by the satellite system and monitored by aircraft. Their great advantage is that they emit a unique coded signal. It is therefore extremely important that when you get one of these you register it with a central rescue authority. If the system picks up your beacon the authorities will immediately attempt to contact you or next of kin via details that you have registered with them. They should therefore be able to establish in a very short time as to whether it is likely to be a genuine emergency or a false alarm.

In addition the beacon will still emit a 121 Mhz signal which search aircraft can use for homing. You can get a straight 406 MHz beacon such as the GME410 which will give a location accuracy within 5Km or the GME410G which has an inbuilt GPS and has a location accuracy of 45 metres. I have done quite a bit of searching and I believe that these 2 beacons are the best for Bushtracker owners. I have managed to purchase a GMS410G (with inbuilt GPS) for $569. The list price is $645.
• Extremely portable and light weight
• No external power needed
• Can be used anywhere in the world
• Cannot be used for communication, it effectively just screams HELP
• Not many others that I can see

If you would like to get some more information on these new beacons go to http:wwwgme.net.au/epirb/mt410.php for a lot more information.

Which systems do I use? I use a combination of UHF radio for short range communication and vehicle to vehicle chat and both satphone and EPIRB for emergency communications. Is this overkill? I don’t think so. Emergency communication in remote areas of Australia is extremely important and I don’t believe there is any excuse for putting you or your loved ones at risk and not taking the issue seriously. Our satphone enabled me to have the emergency services present within 35 minutes on the Oodnadatta track when we unfortunately rolled our rig. Jan was trapped in the vehicle and a longer delay may well have seen her loose her right hand.

Hope you haven’t found the above too boring.

Yogi & Muffin

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Reply By: NIK `N` OFF - Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 03:23

Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 03:23
Not boring at all, thanks for taking the time Tony,

I have owned a HF in the past, it went with the last vehicle. My intention was to get another newer model but the best laid plans etc hasn't seen that happen yet.

I believe the personal epirbs are a great tool in an emergency, hopefully the new versions completely eliminate the idiot factor of false alarms.

Safe Travels.
Mick & Vickie


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Reply By: Motherhen & Rooster - Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 10:38

Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 10:38
Thanks Tony; your informative post is well explained.

I would add that UHF can be used away from the vehicle. We travel with our battery operated hand held units as these can be used when i go bush walking on my own. They do not transmit over the same distance as the ones in the vehicles (provided the antennae doesn't snap off like they are prone to doing). We use ours when travelling in convoy moving machinery for the vehicles that don't have a built in UHF working, and provided the are is reasonably flat, get adequate coverage when the vehicles are spread out over a couple of kms. Even the inbuilt ones drop out when the vehicle is in a dip. They are very cheap to buy and can use rechargeable batteries.

I hope Jan is now fully recovered.



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Follow Up By: Yogi and Muffin - Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 18:30

Friday, Feb 01, 2008 at 18:30
Thanks Motherhen,

Yes I forgot to mention hand held UHF. We also have one and it can be used over short distances eg: one person stays with the vehicle and the other goes bushwalking.

Jan is now fully recovered and we have our new LC200TD. Our new BT will be completed in September and we can finally get back to what we loved. Strangely designing a layout the second time around is harder. You know more and don't take BT's word as gospel for everything.

Thanks for your concern.

Yogi & Muffin

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